10 Years and 250 Mentees: How The Hollywood Reporter's Mentorship Program Has Changed Young Women's Lives

During the past decade, the Women in Entertainment initiative has been giving high school girls the opportunities of a lifetime — along with scholarships and laptops — and providing the industry with a new generation of go-getters.

Ten years ago, editors at The Hollywood Reporter had an intriguing idea: What if we created a mentorship program to accompany our annual Women in Entertainment gala, making it not just a celebration but a tool for social change?

A decade later, about 250 high school juniors from some of the most underserved schools in Los Angeles have been paired with top-level women in film, television and music through a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters — and in many cases their lives have been transformed.

They've been helped by the overwhelming generosity not just of individual mentors but also scholarship donors who've allowed these promising young women to go to the universities of their dreams, aided by Loyola Marymount University, which has given matching funds for 27 girls to study there.

This year, THR will present a record $1.5 million in college scholarships, including six full rides provided by the Chuck Lorre Family Foundation, Sherry Lansing, Netflix (which is fully funding two scholarships), Spotify and Billie and Bryan Lourd, who will unveil the first Carrie Fisher Scholarship, named after Billie's late mother.

In addition, the Entertainment Industry Foundation and Lifetime have committed $10,000 for each mentee's education, continuing a five-year tradition, and Casey and Laura Wasserman will give all the incoming mentees laptops in honor of Casey Wasserman's grandmother, Edie.

At the same time, Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and his wife, Marilyn, will donate $100,000 to launch a scholarship fund that will permit every girl in the program to access much-needed money for books, travel and study abroad, as well as tuition.

With this help, THR and BBBS will be able to go into more schools, find new mentees and give them the kind of opportunity that's helped previous graduates of the WIE program, like the five former mentees THR catches up with on the following pages.

PAOLA FRANCO
Creative assistant, drama original series, Netflix

Franco had always wanted to work with Shonda Rhimes. So when she got an opportunity to interview for an internship at ABC during her sophomore year at Loyola Marymount University, she was ecstatic. Then she discovered that she'd need to drive to Glendale. "I didn't know how to drive on the freeway," Franco says, describing the trip from her home in Inglewood like "traveling to another planet." She didn't get the gig. But two years later, she landed a postgraduation job as a creative assistant in Netflix's drama series department, where she now helps with the development of projects that result from the Scandal creator's overall deal with the streamer. "It's such a full-circle moment for me," says the 23-year-old, who acknowledges that "I was very intimidated coming in [to Netflix]. I was the youngest assistant there, and I was the only female assistant in that department." Fortunately, she had the advice of mentor Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios, as support. "One of the things she's told me that has very much been ingrained in me is, ‘If you have something to say, you should feel confident enough to speak up. You have to get into the habit of being your own advocate,' " Franco says, revealing that she kept that feedback in mind as she asked for a raise following her one-year anniversary with the company.

VANDALENA MAHONEY
Assistant, North American Music Festivals, ICM

Mahoney, 22, tried to sign up for the WIE Mentorship Program when she was a 15-year-old sophomore in Inglewood but was told she was too young. The following year, she reapplied and was paired with Shelter PR partner Cara Tripicchio. Their relationship evolved over SoulCycle workouts and movie nights, and eventually Tripicchio gave Mahoney insight into what it was like to serve as a publicist to Hollywood stars like Steve Carell and Hilary Swank. "I learned very quickly that it's not something I wanted to do," says Mahoney, who nevertheless valued watching Tripicchio in action. "Seeing how she communicates with people, that you can get far in the industry without being rude or demanding, it made me feel like this is the route I want to take when it comes to creating social capital." Mahoney did follow Tripicchio to the publicist's alma mater, LMU, and after graduating in June fielded job offers from three major talent agencies. She ultimately joined ICM in its concerts group, where she's met musicians and attended festivals, but says she's most proud of "having the opportunity to learn."

AILEEN RENTERIA
Senior executive communications specialist, New Relic

A graduate of the first WIE Mentorship Program, Renteria says she still pulls from that experience even 10 years later. Shadowing Universal execs Donna Langley and Kori Bernards exposed her to a business environment for the first time and helped her visualize herself in that world someday. "Seeing women in professional spaces was very important for me," says Renteria, 26, who attended high school in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of L.A. "There's a lot of work that still needs to be done in the way women are seen in specific industries." After finishing the program, she attended UC Berkeley — the first in her family to go to college — and studied abroad in London. She ended up settling in the Bay Area and, since graduating in 2015, has been building a career in technology PR, most recently at software firm New Relic. Says Renteria, "I've learned to be open to new experiences."

RAVYNNE STAINE
Celebrity associate producer, The Real

"Having my own network is the ultimate dream," says Staine, 23. For now, though, she's more than content as an associate producer on the syndicated talk show The Real, hosted by Adrienne Bailon and Tamera Mowry-Housley, a gig she landed just two weeks after graduating from LMU in 2018. In many ways, Staine is following in the footsteps of mentor Hilary Estey McLoughlin, who during Staine's time in the program — in 2014 — was president of creative affairs at CBS Television Distribution but now serves as senior executive producer of The View. "When I got my first job at The Real, walking in there, my impostor syndrome would have been a lot more prevalent," says Staine. "[The mentor program] definitely made me feel more prepared." Now, she hopes that girls entering the program today have a similar takeaway. "Your circumstances never define who you are," she says. "We are so much more than the statistics that are placed on us. It's one thing to say you have confidence. It's another to believe it."

AISHA HAUSER
Senior specialist, marketing and communications, Warner Bros. Entertainment

Hauser was convinced she wanted to be a defense attorney until she shadowed mentor Suzanne Kolb, then president of E! Entertainment, and discovered she was often the only person of color in the room. "It was in those meetings when I was like, 'Wow, being a lawyer isn't necessarily what I have to do in order to feel I'm making an impact. These spaces need more people who understand the bigger picture.' " After graduating from Northwestern in 2018, Hauser, 23, landed a job at Warner Bros., where in addition to her internal communications work she plans hackathons and helps lead a Girls Who Code program for middle schoolers. "I'm representing voices that are not there," says Hauser, whose mother was born in Trinidad. She recounts that during one of her internships, she counseled her bosses not to describe a show about a marching band at a historically black college as urban and instead told them, "It's OK to say 'black.' " Says Hauser, "Moments like that feel like little wins because that would've gone out to lots of people."

This story first appeared in the 2019 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.